Rethinking the Pledge

A hallmark of the American education system and integral part of every U.S. student’s day, the pledge of allegiance has been a school day ritual for over a century.  But should it be?

The pledge was first written by Francis Bellamy in August 1892 as a way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus settling in what is now the United States. The pledge later became adopted in schools across the country to inspire patriotism in students.

But does the continued existence of the pledge truly inspire pride in students or rather does the ritualistic repetition of it make it a mindless action students perform and quickly forget every day?

Some claim the pledge should be mandatory but doing so would be hypocritical because its purpose is to celebrate freedom.

Since 1943, the pledge of allegiance since been ruled to be optional due to the Supreme Court Case West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnette. In that case, Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed their freedom of religion was being taken away from them because mandating this ritual was forcing them to pledge their allegiance to something other than God. The Supreme Court found in their favor, ruling that the constitutional protection of the First Amendment restricts the government – in this case the public school – from forcing a unanimous opinion on any topic. Since then, students are no longer required by law to recite the pledge for any reason of their choosing. Mandating the pledge would be 

The basic intentions of the pledge may seem pure but an interesting aspect of it is that even its creator, Francis Bellamy, avoided incorporating the words equality and fraternity in solely because he knew that state superintendents wouldn’t like it being inclusive of women and African Americans.  Another interesting fact is that the phrase “under God” was added in the 1950’s under Pres. Eisenhower after a strong push to do so inspired by the Presbyterian minister George Docherty, who believed “an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms… If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life.”  So technically the phrase “under God” was added to celebrate Christianity and exclude non-Christians and the non-religious. 

The pledge may seem to be an inclusive song for freedom but many students do not know the full history of the speech.  Rather than reciting, or just standing and listening to it day after day, students should be informed of its full history and encouraged to decide for themselves whether they feel that it should be kept as a daily ritual, removed altogether, or reserved for special special occasions such as Veterans’ Day or Memorial Day.  This might cause us to reflect more on its meaning rather than just mindlessly recite it daily.